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Looking At The WWE/ESPN Deal

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This past Tuesday, John Cena was featured on the launch of a weekly WWE segment on Sports Center as part of the WWE/ESPN deal that was previously announced. Essentially, a weekly WWE segment will bring viewers from outside the typical ESPN demographic to watch their network and wrestling related topics proved to be successful, as the WWE content featured on ESPN has always done strong ratings. Speaking of ratings, both networks have reportedly hit some what of a slump and co-promotion could spark things or at least provide a fresh dynamic.

For the WWE, they are competing with some of their toughest competition of the year with the MLB playoffs and Monday Night Football opposite of Raw. Despite loading the show with Stone Cold, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar etc. this past week drew 3.35 million viewers, which is one of the lowest ratings of the year, but not necessarily uncommon during the playoffs. That said, it still has to be somewhat concerning to WWE brass that they put nearly every possible major star they could on TV, but it just didn’t garner the viewers. In my opinion, it probably indicates the lack of emotional investment in many of the current characters on the roster and the lack of investment could be a direct result of the business being over exposed. It’s more difficult to get the main stream audience to buy into a character when they are repeatedly reminded that the performer is just a character. Granted, you can’t insult the viewers and try to convince them that everything is real, but you don’t have to blatantly expose it either. Technically, it actually opens the door to rejuvenate the believability of the product if the fans assume they know everything because if a character is presented with enough realism, you can get the crowd to question the line between reality and storyline, which Bray Wyatt did to some degree during his initial push.

Brock Lesnar, arguably the WWE’s top draw in the past few years, is another prime example of how a legitimate presentation can draw money. When Lesnar throws a car door literally into the second row, it’s vastly different from the majority of the over scripted promos that are usually featured on WWE TV.

That being said, the ESPN deal gives the WWE more main stream publicity and can be a way to give fans a review of the angles from Raw if they didn’t tune into the show, potentially generating some buzz for them to watch the following week. ESPN had a dip in ratings recently, mostly because many sports fans will look toward local coverage for their local teams, as it provided more detailed analysis. It should also be considered that while football and basketball have a national draw, baseball and hockey are more regional in popularity, which is another reason some fans will follow local coverage. Similar to WWE, the ESPN network has a lot of competition within its respective field and it makes sense for them to build towards a more diverse demographic.

Despite the initial outrage of scripted WWE TV invading the legitimate sports landscape, it should be mentioned that this is a win-win situation. More specifically, the die-hard sports fans that think carny pro wrestling is staining real sports should realize that ANYTHING on main stream television is entertainment designed to generate ratings and thus, ad revenue, which is very similar to the WWE’s objective for Raw. There’s a reason there are such boastful and diverse pairs of hosts on ESPN, ratings. Even some of the more traditionally formatted ESPN content, such as Mike and Mike, which avoids some of the more overtly ratings driven tactics because of its time slot, still has Greeny as the somewhat timid analyst and Golic for the brute that brings the former player aspect.

A prime example of the “entertainment first” aspect of ESPN is the “First Take” show that features debates between professional troll, Skip Bayless and passionate sports reporter, Stephen A. Smith. Bayless takes to the defense of some of the more polarizing figures, such as Tim Tebow, Tom Brady, and Johny Manziel while Stephen A. argues the more logical points. The point being, the usual ESPN viewers aren’t going to tune out because of a weekly WWE segment and if anything it gets non typical viewers to watch SportsCenter so there’s no real harm done to either brand. Would it be somewhat goofy to see an outlandish wrestling angle follow NHL highlights? Probably, but again, it’s about the ratings and a weekly segment isn’t going to jeopardize the credibility of ESPN.

The bottom line is, the WWE is a global product and ESPN is still a media power house so it’s a good deal for everyone. Plus, if it’s packaged right, the WWE spot could be seen as an entertaining variety aspect of Sports Center. Some sports fans might complain about staged wrestling appearing along with the legitimate competition of other sports, but if they are still watching, does it matter? Keep in mind, ESPN or any other network are as much about entertainment and ratings than anything else, which is exactly the point of the WWE/ESPN deal.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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